Executive Director – Business Connect, Michigan State University

Please note: this job has already been filled by Gardner Innovation Search Partners.

Michigan State University, one of the nation’s premier land-grant research universities is located in East Lansing, Michigan, which has a dynamic growing entrepreneurial climate, a family-friendly environment, excellent schools, and a high quality of life. At MSU they tackle some of the world’s toughest problems to find solutions that make life better—from alternative energy to better food safety to breakthrough medical and environmental applications achieved through rare isotope research. The technology transfer program enjoys strong support from university leadership along with the MSU Foundation and is searching for the right candidate to join a strong, cohesive team.

The MSU Innovation Center combines innovation, technology transfer, start-up support and a portfolio of dedicated business and community partnerships to bring cutting-edge ideas to the marketplace. Composed of Business Connect, MSU Technologies,  and Spartan Innovations, the MSU Innovation Center stewards ideas from concept to product, engaging in hundreds of corporate-sponsored programs, and launching more than 130 discoveries into patented products and start-up businesses annually.

Michigan State has a research budget of $700 million. Read the 2021 Annual Report here.

Executive Director – Business Connect Duties & Responsibilities:

The successful candidate for the Executive Director role will be responsible for establishing and implementing a strategy for corporate engagement, focused on Research and Economic Development, integrated in an overall effort to increase holistic engagement between corporate partners and Michigan State University.

The Executive Director will ensure that Business Connect resources are appropriately applied to achieve growth in the number and quality of corporate research agreements & partnerships while driving relationships with corporations to the highest possible level of partnership and mutual value in line with University strategic objectives.

The Executive Director will lead a team of professionals who 1) engage with faculty, department chairs, and college deans to understand areas of strength in University research with potential for corporate engagement, 2) engage in business development activities to attract and retain corporate partners, 3) negotiate and execute contracts that support new and ongoing collaborations with for-profit corporations, and 4) partner with University stakeholders in corporate engagement (i.e., University Advancement, Career Services, Procurement, Athletics, etc.) to maximize University corporate engagement.

In addition to the leadership of the unit, the Executive Director will also maintain his / her own portfolio of corporate relationships, with accountability to drive those relationships to productive outcomes.

As a peer in the MSU Innovation Center and the regional innovation and commercialization ecosystem, the Executive Director will strategically collaborate with leaders of MSU Technologies, Spartan Innovations, the Burgess Institute, and external partners in economic development such as the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP). 

This position will report to the Associate Vice President for Innovation & Economic Development.


Key responsibilities of the Executive Director will include but not be limited to the following:

Business Development and Contract Negotiation/execution – 50%

  • Strategically evaluate and assess existing research strengths at MSU in the context of partnerships with the private sector and creating commercial value. Routinely engage with faculty, department chairs, and college deans to understand areas of strength in University research with potential for corporate engagement, and to recruit them as partners to maximize their potential.
  • Oversee and supervise all business development, contracting, and other business activities of Business Connect; establish a global commercial partner base in alignment with MSU’s research portfolio.
  • Establish and/or augment the use of advanced data systems, 1) to track performance metrics for the office and its personnel, 2) to optimize the operations of the organization, as well as to 3) gather critical data on potential corporate partners, and actively market partnering opportunities to potential partners.
  • Make recommendations to the AVP for Innovation and Economic Development concerning business decisions and investments to potentiate research partnerships with commercial potential and long-term planning for development of MSU’s corporate partnering opportunities.
  • Act as the accountable signatory for contracts with for-profit organizations that support Research and related activities.  Maintain compliance with University policies and the law, while exercising flexibility and creativity to create mutually beneficial agreements on an expedited basis.  In partnership with MSU Technologies, evaluate execute the proper balance of value to MSU in the form of short-term research dollars, in exchange for potentially diminished long-term returns due to company-favorable intellectual property terms.

Personnel and Leadership – 35%

  • Maintain a robust performance management process and culture with annual goal setting and reviews with compensation decisions linked directly to performance.  Utilize 360 feedback in the process wherever practical.
  • Recruit new personnel when required for the key business functions of Business Connect with a diligent focus on diversity.  Maintain an active program of succession planning; cultivating and developing potential new leaders or contributors to the unit’s success.
  • Work together with leaders of MSU Technologies, Spartan Innovations, VPRI, and other stakeholders to strategically define the best business options for developing corporate relationships.
  • Be a visible leader and proponent of holistic corporate engagement, collaborating with University stakeholders in corporate engagement (i.e., University Advancement, Career Services, Procurement, Athletics, etc.) to achieve sustainable and mutually beneficial work habits that support this goal.
  • Constantly work to maximize the partnership with University stakeholders in corporate engagement (i.e., University Advancement, Career Services, Procurement, Athletics, etc.) to maximize the potential dimensions of corporate engagement at MSU.
  • Develop and oversee an education and outreach program to faculty and students relevant to Business Connect activities to create a culture on campus that will lead to more corporate-engaged research and translation of ideas into practice through partnerships and the development of intellectual property.
  • Oversee training of all functions for continuous improvement and development of Business Connect including Intern and other training programs for MSU students.

Outreach & Engagement – 15%

  • With peers in MSU’s other business development groups (MSU Technologies, Spartan Innovations), engage with external commercial alliances, including agencies such as Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC), Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP), Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), NACRO, UIDP, and other economic development centers and Smart Zones within Michigan.
  • Maintain an optimal public relations position on behalf of Business Connect; establish networks with political and trade organizations.
  • Network across campus organizations and administrators including MSU Technologies, Spartan Innovations, Conflict of Interest Office, Office of General Counsel, Sponsored Research Administration, Contract and Grant Administration, Deans, Associate Deans for Research, University Executive Leadership, and the MSU Foundation to coordinate Business Connect functions and to promote its objectives and goals.


Required or highly desired educational and professional attributes of qualified candidates include:

  • Bachelor’s degree required, an advanced degree (PhD, MBA, etc.) preferred (preferably in business, engineering, or the sciences).
  • 10 years’ experience working in research management, business development, or corporate relations with at least 5 years of this experience in private sector research and development.  Extensive and broad experience in the business of research and commercialization, a documented and strong track record in negotiation and contract development, or other business operations across an academic-corporate interface.
  • Commercial expertise and mindset achieved as an executive or manager of a business unit, a corporate, government or academic corporate engagement unit, or research and development organization. Evidence of ability to balance competing priorities and effective time management skills.
  • General management experience in a university, or biotechnology/engineering, or other relevant company, and related experience building and/or managing a unit within an academic environment. A demonstrated record of proactive attention to matters of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
  • Specific experience that relates to technologies with commercial potential developed in MSU colleges (e.g., Agriculture, Communication Arts and Sciences, Education, Engineering, Natural Science, Social Sciences and Medicine) is highly desired. 
  • Demonstrated ability to interact effectively with a wide variety of people and to act effectively both independently and as a member of a team.
  • A reputation and demonstrated success as a visionary, creative and dynamic business professional, and more specifically, success in creating commercial value derived from scientific or other innovations. International business experience and established networks are highly desired.
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills, highly effective as a business leader sensitive to the needs and workings of the academic and corporate environments and missions. Must demonstrate leadership and a capacity to achieve consensus among university officials, the MSU Foundation, Michigan economic development leaders and Business Connect personnel concerning key initiatives, commercial strategies and long-term planning of technology growth and infrastructure.
  • Capacity to easily comprehend technical communications/documents from diverse scientific and technical disciplines and work effectively with diverse elements of the MSU technology base. 
  • Operational knowledge and significant experience with university-based research contracting processes and the development and execution of diverse agreements, demonstrated negotiating skills, and experience in advanced deal-making business strategies. Evidence of creative solutions in complex negotiations and an experience in negotiating to productive middle ground will be highly valued.
  • Established networks and working relationships with corporations within the US and internationally, to enable opportunities to link Business Connect to external partners.
  • Fluency with computer software (spreadsheet, word processing, PowerPoint).

Desired education/experience/skills: 

  • Advanced knowledge of the law (especially relating to contracts and intellectual property).

Salary: A salary in the range of $200-225,000, commensurate with experience will be offered, as well as a comprehensive benefits package including relocation allowance.

Here is the Michigan State University Executive Director – Business Connect full position specification with further details.

Executive Director – Business Connect Applicants

Michigan State University has exclusively retained Gardner Innovation Search Partners to manage this search. Gardner Innovation Search Partners is the top technology transfer recruiter in the world, and is committed to presenting a diverse slate of candidates who possess the skills, expertise, and enthusiasm to thrive in this role.

Interested applicants should send their resume and any questions to:

Lisa Rooney, Recruiter



Glen Gardner, Recruiter



Dave Winwood, Recruiter



Gardner Innovation Search Partners is committed to diversity in both people and ideas. Read more about our commitment to diversity and inclusion here: https://gardnerisp.com/diversity-inclusion/.

All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, citizenship, age, disability or protected veteran status.

Candidates must have the capacity to comply with federally mandated requirements of U.S. export control laws.

Michigan State University is requiring all MSU students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 with limited exceptions. Learn more at: https://msu.edu/together-we-will/.

About East Lansing, MI

East Lansing is known for its tree-lined residential neighborhoods, exceptional city services and amenities, abundant arts and cultural offerings, vibrant downtown, and diverse population. Michigan State University is at the heart of East Lansing, and downtown hosts several events each year, including an Arts Festival and Farmer’s Market. Read more about East Lansing at https://www.cityofeastlansing.com/.

MSU Colleagues live in a variety of communities surrounding the East Lansing campus, notably including Lansing, East Lansing, Okemos, Williamston, Grand Ledge, Dewitt, and Holt.  Collectively, these communities provide a wide array of affordable and accessible living situations, from downtown lifestyles to rural acreage, all within a short distance of campus with uncomplicated commuting.